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High Speed Rail (London – West Midlands) Bill

Part of Speaker’s Statement – in the House of Commons at 6:26 pm on 28th April 2014.

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Photo of Simon Burns Simon Burns Conservative, Chelmsford 6:26 pm, 28th April 2014

I support the Bill and high-speed rail. Having spent a considerable amount of time taking the earlier stages through this House, I fully appreciate that a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members have terrible troubles with regard to their constituencies because of the line of route and the impact the railway might have. I respect them for the way in which they are carrying out their duties as assiduous constituency MPs to fight for the best deal for their constituents, but I believe passionately that it is crucial that there are major infrastructure projects in this country to make sure that we keep ahead of our competitors, and that we deal with issues of connectivity and rail and road transport in this country.

Too often, there is a tendency for people immediately to oppose a major infrastructure project. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, there was opposition to the M1 in the late 1950s. If we had listened to that opposition, we would never have had our motorway network and this country would have suffered considerably. The same is true of High Speed 1, which I remember when I first became a Member of this House. There were even great objections to the building of the original railways in this country in the 19th century, when those who were opposed to them said that they would terrify country folk, turn cows’ milk sour and stop hens laying, and that travelling at speeds of more than 25 miles per hour would cause engines to combust and passengers, amazingly, to disintegrate. That is an attitude that one has had to put up with.

To me, the overwhelming reason why High Speed 2 is needed, building on the success of High Speed 1, is capacity. Of course, greater journey speeds are a good thing, but the need is for capacity, capacity, capacity, as a former Prime Minister said in another field of policy, the reason being that the west coast main line will run out of capacity in the mid-2020s. We in this House would be negligent if we were not taking measures to deal with that prospective problem. We must also deal with current problems. In 2011, for people travelling by train to London, there was overcrowding of 4,000 passengers, and going into Birmingham, overcrowding of 5,000 passengers. That is before the west coast main line capacity is used up. The beauty of this scheme is that it will unleash capacity on the west coast main line by taking from it passengers who want to travel to London. Some people have said, as they have during this debate, “Well what is it going to do for Buckinghamshire, Warwickshire or Staffordshire, where there may not be a station?” What it will do is release and create capacity on the west coast main line, so that those who want to travel between towns and cities on that route or into London can get a seat and have a better journey experience. That is the crucial thing.

We also have to bear it in mind that our competitors are racing ahead with high-speed railways and that we cannot afford to stand still. I will make another plea. When the Secretary of State’s review is completed, I hope the commitment is given that High Speed 2 will form High Speed 3, into Glasgow and across to Edinburgh. I also see it as a spine, so that if there is a need for a high-speed railway in south Wales, north Wales or the south-west of England into the east of the country, we can have it. This is a building block.

Yes, we have to take environmental protections with the building of the railway, but I urge my hon. Friends not to lose sight of the big picture of what this country needs and demands to improve our infrastructure and ensure that we are streets ahead of our competitors, give a better journey time and capability for passengers, and get more and more freight off our congested roads and on to our railways. For those reasons, I will be wholeheartedly supporting the Government and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.